Sanofi Pasteur drafts Bollywood star to talk up flu shots in India

Farhan Akhtar

For celebrity campaigns in the U.S., pharma often goes to Hollywood. In India, it's Bollywood--and Sanofi Pasteur is doing just that. The Sanofi ($SNY) vaccines venture tapped popular actor and director Farhan Akhtar to launch its latest flu immunization push in the country.

Drawing on Akhtar's concerns as a father of two, the new mass media and in-clinic campaign targets parents and their children to encourage flu immunization. The overall intent of the campaign is to move Indians from "ignorance to awareness to conviction" about getting flu shots.

People in India have a "very casual approach" to flu immunization, with people only spurred to act when a serious outbreak of disease such as swine flu occurs, the Influenza Foundation of India said in a news release. The new effort comes on the heels of a swine flu outbreak in India at the beginning of the year that affected 33,000 and killed more than 2,000.

"I was shocked to see the impact that flu has had across India in the last few months. As a parent, I was concerned for my children's welfare and hence, consulted their pediatrician," Akhtar said in a statement. "It was reassuring to know that flu can be prevented and children can be protected against flu through timely vaccination. This was a revelation to me, and I am sure that there are others too who have misconceptions about the disease, inadvertently risking their children's lives."

The Dad-as-vaccination-spokesman approach is one that Big Pharma has used before. AstraZeneca ($AZN) signed up U.S. actor James Van Der Beek for a flu-shot awareness campaign that included radio and video. The U.K.-based company makes FluMist, an inhaled immunization.

The Akhtar-fronted campaign is part of Sanofi India's overall "I for Immunisation" push that began in 2011. Past efforts included a Facebook ($FB) page called "Mothers Against Flu," several contests to gather ideas to increase immunization awareness, and rural awareness education programs aimed at teachers, parents and students.

Sanofi Pasteur makes the flu vaccine called Fluzone in the U.S. and Vaxigrip globally. It is the largest provider of flu vaccines in the world; the other large players in flu vaccines include CSL, which recently purchased Novartis' ($NVS) flu-shot business; GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK); and AstraZeneca.

The World Health Organization estimates the annual attack rate of influenza globally is 5-10% of adults and 20–30% of children. It reported that the market for the flu vaccine has been growing from $2.9 billion in 2011, expected to rise to $3.8 billion in 2017, although other sources have pegged the flu vaccine market to cross $4 billion this year. In the WHO data, the U.S. accounted for $1.6 billion in 2011, rising to $2.2 billion in 2017, well over half of the total market in both years and indicative of lower adoption rates overseas.

- read the Sanofi release

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